Miami Int’l Joins DHS Campaign Against Human Trafficking

Lester Sola
March-April
2021
Lester Sola, director and chief executive officer of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, oversees operations at Miami International Airport and four general aviation airports in the Miami area. Together, these airports generate $31.9 billion in business revenue and support more than 275,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Human trafficking is a crime that is often hidden in plain sight. Most people cannot identify victims, even when they encounter them in person. A man, woman or child sitting right next to you can be a victim, and it’s very hard to tell. Awareness campaigns that train and educate travel industry workers and the public to identify potential victims of this heinous crime are essential in helping us rescue these victims and putting traffickers behind bars.

With those facts in mind, Miami International Airport (MIA) announced a formal partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fight human trafficking through the Blue Lightning Initiative on Jan. 11, in recognition of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

MIA is the first airport in Florida to join this training initiative to help ensure that our employees and the millions of Americans who travel each year, even during these new normal circumstances, are better informed and able to assist in this fight.

Airports are uniquely positioned to help raise awareness and train their employees to properly identify and report suspicious behavior. MIA joins a growing list of over 50 aviation partners working to combat human trafficking through the Blue Lightning Initiative.

While travel is down significantly due to the pandemic, human trafficking remains a constant threat, regardless of overall passenger volume. Approximately 96% of all visitors to Miami-Dade County come through our airport, and MIA continues to be one of the country’s busiest airports for international passengers. Major tourism events are known to attract human trafficking as well, which makes our initiative even more important.

MIA first partnered with DHS and the U.S. Transportation Department in November 2020, building on a collaboration forged earlier in the year in preparation for Super Bowl LIV, when the agencies held training sessions for MIA employees on indicators of human trafficking.

MIA has already provided the Blue Lightning training to nearly all of our 1,400 employees, and new employees will receive the training as part of their onboarding process. There are also plans to expand the training to the entire airport workforce (concessions workers, ground handlers, etc.) in the coming year. Some airlines operating at MIA already participate in the program.

Travelers will also see Blue Lightning Initiative messages in new locations throughout their journey, particularly in pre-security areas of high concurrence near the TSA checkpoints and at passport screening areas. Awareness materials will also be made available to the traveling public at our information counters.

We are deeply grateful for the guidance and partnership of DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in launching the Blue Lightning Initiative program at MIA.

We also thank Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Chairman José “Pepe” Diaz and the Board of County Commissioners for their support of this cause throughout the years, and for approving legislation for a countywide awareness campaign last May.

When human trafficking is suspected, MIA employees have been instructed to follow the Blue Lightning Initiative reporting protocol and expeditiously report tips to the DHS Tip Line at (866) 347-2423. 

Other airports wanting to join this important initiative can contact bluecampaign@hq.dhs.gov.

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